Monday, May 25, 2009

The Missouri Compromise: So Much For a Sacred Compact

The second session of the Sixteenth Congress opened on November 13, 1820. The “debate centered chiefly in the House, since there could be no doubt that the Senate would be favorable to the immediate admission of Missouri.” The south would vote solidly in favor, and it was clear that there we sufficient northern senators to provide a substantial majority.

In the House, the Missouri constitution was formally presented on November 16, 1820 and referred to a select committee, which reported in favor on November 23, 1820. On December 13, 1820, after prolonged debate, the House rejected the committee’s recommendation by a vote of 79-93, divided sectionally as follows:

In Favor Against

North 5- 92
South 74- 1

“It was now clear to everyone,” Glover Moore observes, “that the Missouri question would dominate the second session of the Sixteenth Congress as effectively as it had the preceding one.”

A subsequent vote provides a clear picture on how northern representatives regarded the compromise. Rep. Rollin C. Mallary of Vermont “sought to tack on . . . an amendment requiring Missouri to provide for the gradual abolition of slavery before entering the Union.” The amendment was defeated, with solid southern opposition, by a vote of 61 to 107. But almost two-thirds of northern representatives supported the amendment (61-34). Moore comments:

Thus by a two to one majority the representatives from the free states repudiated the Missouri Compromise within less than a year after its adoption. It is not surprising that they should do this, however. They had never been in favor or the compromise and did not, like some of their descendants, regard it as sacrosanct. Rather, they considered it an undesirable piece of legislation which they would gladly repeal if they could.

After months of acrimonious debate, Henry Clay’s meaningless but face-saving compromise resolution attracted sufficient numbers of northern votes to resolve the second phase. That resolution provided "for the admission of the state of Missouri into the Union, on a certain condition":
Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That Missouri shall be admitted into this Union on an equal footing with the original states, in all respects whatever, upon the fundamental condition, that the fourth clause of the twenty-sixth section of the third article of the constitution submitted on the part of said state to Congress, shall never be construed to authorize the passage of any law, and that no law shall be passed in conformity thereto, by which any citizen, of either [any?] of the states in this Union, shall be excluded from the enjoyment of any of the privileges and immunities to which such citizen is entitled under the constitution of the United States: Provided, that the legislature of the said state, by a solemn public act, shall declare the assent of the said state to the said fundamental condition, and shall transmit to the President of the United States, on or before the fourth Monday in November next, an authentic copy of the said act; upon the receipt whereof, the President, by proclamation, shall announce the fact; whereupon, and without any further proceeding on the part of Congress, the admission of the said state into this Union shall be considered as complete.

Yet even at the end, an overwhelming majority of northern representatives – almost 80% of those voting – refused to hold their noses and vote in favor:

In Favor Against

North 18- 80
South 69- 1

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